Nationalism is essentially a modern concept. While people have historically been attached to their families, local authorities and native land, nationalism gained recognition only in the late 18th century. From a political or sociological outlook, there are three main paradigms for understanding the origins and basis of nationalism. The first, known as primordialism or perennialism, sees nationalism as a natural phenomenon. It holds that, although the concept of nationhood may be recent, nations have always existed. The second paradigm is ethnosymbolism, which is a complex perspective seeking to explain nationalism by contextualizing it throughout history as a dynamic, evolutionary phenomenon and by further examining the strength of nationalism as a result of the nation's subjective ties to national symbols imbued with historical meaning. The third and most dominant paradigm is modernism, which sees nationalism as a recent phenomenon that needs the structural conditions of modern society to exist.
The word nation was used before 1800 in Europe to refer to the inhabitants of a country as well as to collective identities that could include shared history, law, language, political rights, religion and traditions, in a sense more akin to the modern conception.